- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (February 21, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 069114589X
- ISBN-13: 978-0691145891
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism 1st Edition
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Winner of the 2008 Lannan Notable Book Award, Lannan Foundation
[A] comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. . . . Democracy Incorporated is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States--including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors.---Chalmers Johnson, Truthdig
[Democracy Incorporated provides] a rare, chilling analysis of intellectual critics of democracy. If democracy means more than occasional elections and protection of those rights that are compatible with economic and political elites' interests, Wolin's analysis of our democratic predicament is shocking, solid, and fundamentally correct.---C. P. Waligorski, Choice
Sheldon Wolin has produced an ambitious and broad-ranging book that examines the current state of democracy in America. . . . Wolin argues that the unquestioned faith in the virtues of free market capitalism has dramatically narrowed the range of policy options that are on the table when debate turns to resolving the US's ills. . . .[T]his is a trenchant and powerful volume.---Alex Waddan, International Affairs
Of the many books I've read or skimmed in the past seven years that attempted to get inside the social and political debacles of the present, none has had the chilling clarity and historical discernment of Sheldon S. Wolin's Democracy Incorporated. Building on his fifty years as a political theorist and proponent of radical democracy, Wolin here extends his concern with the extinguishing of the political and its replacement by fraudulent simulations of democratic process.---Jonathan Crary, Artforum
[W]e need to understand the deep roots of our present troubles ourselves and Wolin's book is an excellent beginning.---Toby Grace, Out in Jersey
Democracy Incorporated acts as an antidote to unconstrained corporate power and an elitist obsession and should be widely read by all those who cherish democracy and civil liberty.---Shih-Yu Chou, Political Studies Review
[Wolin] provides a rich narrative of the struggle of elites and the demos from ancient Greece through the writing of the U.S. Constitution and into the present, and the corporate-managed politics that has emerged will survive no matter which party holds Congress or the presidency.---Coleman Fannin, Journal of Church and State
Despite being written shortly before both the financial crisis and the Obama victory, the main lineaments of his analysis are still alarmingly cogent.---Tom Angier, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
To find our way back to normalcy in a time of crisis and emergency we must ask ourselves, 'how did we get here?' Wolin's wisdom is a helpful guide for that journey. (Salon)
From the Back Cover
"With his fundamental grasp of political theory and restless spirit to get at the essence of what threatens modern democracy, Wolin demonstrates that the threats to our democratic traditions and institutions are not always from outside, but may come from within. It is a book that policymakers and scholars of contemporary society should read and reflect upon."--Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School, author of From Higher Aims to Hired Hands
"As we've come to expect from Sheldon Wolin, a tightly argued and deeply revealing book about the dangers of unconstrained capitalism for our democracy."--Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley
"For half a century, Sheldon Wolin has been one of the most distinguished and influential political theorists in the United States and a perceptive observer of the American political scene. In his magisterial latest book, Wolin shows himself at the height of his powers as he presents a highly original, sober, and persuasive account of a number of tendencies in contemporary American society that constitute a significant danger for the future of constitutional democracy. If totalitarianism establishes itself in the United States, it will be in the 'inverted' form Wolin analyzes in this important book."--Raymond Geuss, University of Cambridge
"Wolin's writing has a resonance that binds the canon of political philosophy to unfolding events and present circumstances. In Democracy Incorporated, he contends that the institutions and practices that Americans regarded as their defense against totalitarianism--and other forms of authoritarian domination--have failed them. There is nothing like this book. It is a major, potentially revolutionary contribution to political thought."--Anne Norton, author of Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire
"Powerful and persuasive. Democracy Incorporated does exactly what great political theory should do: it provides a theoretical framework that allows the reader to see the political world anew. It left this reader with an almost nightmarish vision of American politics today, a nightmare all the more terrifying for being so compelling, so vivid, and so real."--Marc Stears, author of Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State
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Publishing this work in 2008 he lays out the character of the American society and where its prided Democracy has gone; most recently under the reign of George I-II as he calls it but the roots travel far back to earlier administrations and their untruths and proclivities. What he finds is Democracy Incorporate, Inverted Totalitarianism, and Superpower – a contrived Imperial thrust housing perpetual wars. One thesis is: Concentrated corporate power and democracy are incompatible. These are heavy charges, is this not yet the world’s leading democracy?
This work could have been edited to a tighter presentation but his language is so memorable that would have been a loss. Here he explains what we do sense has happened but can not quite grasp: “The crisis, it seems, is that there was no crisis. In its literal meaning a crisis is “a turning point.” Adapting the formulation “a turning point but no crisis” to the condition I have designated “inverted totalitarianism,” we might ask, why does the existence of that turning point go unrecognized? how are the facts of radical political change concealed when there is no evidence, say, of a coup or revolutionary overthrow? how can we recognize that the country is at the political turning point of inverted totalitarianism?” (pp. 211-212) "“The development that is emblematic of the economic polity is the extent to which finance has come to define politics. Millions of dollars from corporations are systematically poured into the legislative process and electoral campaigns.
State actors have become dependent more on corporate power than on their own citizens. Even a citizen-army is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by professionals skilled in the latest weaponry developed by corporate technology.
The military has been absorbed into the corporate economy (defense contracts, weapons procurement, retired generals become executives) and its culture.”
The topic Superpower, incorporating Globalization and Militarization have become more recognized by the citizenry but here too you will delight in his analysis; other would prefer the title “Pax Americana” as a gentler cover, but that behavior he explains well.
The original was published in 2008, indeed a crisis period as it has proven; re-released with a new preface by the author, 2010 and a new edition, with an introduction by Chris Hedges in 2017. The footnotes are as informative and entertaining as the text.
The current administration is pushing the envelope right along and one can only hope its Superpower is somehow controlled. The bright side as Wolin would see it is that the citizenry does seem to be getting the message that we need to pay attention to where we are going. Take the Professor’s course!
According to Wolin, due to a conjuncture of factors, the US has backed into "inverted totalitarianism". Unlike the varieties of totalitarianism in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR - they were top down, centralized, and attempting to dominate all political discourse with propaganda and brute authoritarian force - inverted totalitarianism is indirect, decentralized, and not dependent on some charismatic dictator. It is a system that evolved without plan. In accordance with this logic, it enables a closed elite to control events by overwhelming citizens with what's come to be called fake news, an obsession with military security, and the increasing use of management techniques (including advertising, economic efficiency models, etc.). While it advantages republicans, the democrats are full participants as well, as the latter's connections to Wall Street attest.
In my reading, there are 3 principal elements to Wolin's conjuncture. First, there were the intentions of the founding fathers themselves: Madison and Hamilton agreed that "the mob" was dangerous, hence they wanted a "republican" form of government and not a "democratic" one, referring not to the parties that emerged later but to rule by elites of wealth, property, and power. Furthermore, they designed our constitution to inhibit change, blocking the voice of the people. Second, with the advent of the military-industrial complex, the elite gained a new kind of unquestionable legitimacy, whereby they had to "protect" citizens and hence excluded them from strategy considerations that were deemed too esoteric and sensitive for open democratic debate. W took this to a new extreme after 9/11. Third, also post-WWII, there was the rise of management science to ideological dominance, an economics logic that offered its own quasi-religious precepts that informed a total faith in the efficiency of the market and mechanisms to "manage" democracy in accordance with "social science".
In practical terms, this translates into more and more areas that escape the democratic scrutiny that were once the province of public policy and subject to regulation and political debate. The mechanisms include privatization - of prisons, military operations, and other kinds of public service - but also the appointment of military specialists. Moreover, the methodologies of management and economics limit the spectrum of political possibility, e.g. the distribution of income and even the minimum wage are deemed illegitimate by certain politicians and hence outside of legitimate discussion as the "market" must be respected. Wolin argues that these developments represent a vital threat to the integrity of our institutions and political life. This is something I fully agree with - and once you start thinking about it, the more you notice this going on in American (and western) public life. Wolin weaves it all into a seamless gestalt.
This brings us to inverted totalitarianism. I have struggled with this notion, not quite able to get my mind around it completely. I will probably have to re-read the book more carefully. Rather than a dependence on autocratic power or ideology, it is a political system attached to abstract ideals that enable an elite to exert control. Rather than dominated by a police state, the public is exhausted by life's demands, easily distracted, essentially preoccupied hence unable to mobilize itself politically; intractable pseudo-issues, such as cultural preferences or abortion, drain energy from debates, creating wedge issues to exploit and then forget once in power. The result is a return to elite oligarchic rule, similar to that envisaged by Madison but via modern means and technologies. Obviously, this is highly relevant to contemporary politics and open to interpretation, i.e. that Trump is either trying to remedy this ("drain the swamp") or he is the culmination of it in his authoritarian style that depends on traditional elites like the military and appointees from Goldman Sachs - or both. Finally, Wolin suggests some remedies in the form of grassroot initiatives at the local level, though I think they are weak.
This is one of the most profound and engaging political books I have read in years, pregnant with possibility regarding the interpretation of our current politics. As such, it is very difficult to digest, due to the non-linear nature of the presentation of its many fruitful ideas. I recommend this to everyone who is interested in improving the American political system, in understanding better what has happened to us. I think it is a masterpiece by a great political philosopher. Recommended warmly.
He makes an excellent presentation of the transformations we have undergone and the silent nature ( in public discourse ) of the executions.
Sheldon is a master at using the best words to express his ideas. I had to look up a lot of words, and thankfully I had my Kindle version of this book, so I had dictionaries and Wikipedia at my fingertips.
In the course of presenting his thesis, Sheldon provides a master crash course of the history of our democratic involvement, or, to be more exact, the demos' struggles and efforts for their inclusion in politics and for the realization of a democratic political process, and their struggles against the elites in order to claim an equal voice in the political power and process.
Finally, Sheldon Wolin presents his thesis with more than enough evidence supporting that we indeed are in an inverted totalitarian system.
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